Manuel Blancafort (1897-1987)
6 Peces breus 8 Peces per a piano Jocs i danses al camp Cants intims I
Manuel Blancafort lived through troubled times, witnessingthe end of a world view and a vision of art which had remained more or lessunchanged for hundreds of years, and the birth of the avant-garde music of thetwentieth century. Drawing on a wealth of internal inspiration however, he wasable to tread his own path and maintain his individuality. His inner world grewfrom his experiences of nature, intimacy and memory, as well as life in hishome town of La Garriga. A somewhat withdrawn character, he had a tendency tomelancholy: \I always enjoyed silence and my own company, and I spent much ofmy childhood alone, not needing outside entertainment," he wrote in 1929.
Blancafort himself has said that he wrote most of his earlyworks after returning from long days spent in the mountains, in sunshine, wind,fog or rain. Through music he could record his impressions, like pages in adiary without words. Despite their obvious romantic character, these piecesalso display a clear concern for concision and structure: "Be wary ofRomanticism! Don't deny, don't betray your intelligence". His discovery ofFrench and Russian music and the premi?¿re of Albeniz's Iberia were vital to hisdevelopment as a composer, opening up the musical direction he was to take.Reacting against the predominance of Wagnerism at the time, Blancafort believedthat Catalan music should be characterised by clarity: "simple, without excessivecounterpoint or nebulous chromaticism which would drown out our lyricaltradition's purity of expression".
His ideal of the non-improvised, non-spontaneous, balanced"well-made work" and his understanding of the intimate were very much in linewith the sense of order and simplicity central to the Catalanwriter-philosopher Eugeni d'Ors' Noucentisme ("20th-centuryism") -- a culturalmovement with political aspects, whose theoretical-aesthetic doctrine was drawnup by D'Ors in 1908. Blancafort met him in 1918 at one of the culturalgatherings at the Hotel Blancafort in La Garriga. D'Ors listened to music byBlancafort and Frederic Mompou, who was also present, and the three mendiscussed the new direction Catalan music should take. During his stay there,D'Ors also read the pamphlet Le Coq et l'Arlequin, published that same year byJean Cocteau who had become the spokesman for the "Groupe des Six": this wastheir manifesto for the new trends in French music. Mompou had introduced hisyounger colleague to these ideas, clearly mirroring their own views on thefuture of music, and both composers would adopt them as their own.
This second volume of piano works continues where the firstleft off, bringing to an end the first phase of Blancafort's compositions forthe instrument. The works recorded here are for the most part short pieceswhich either stand alone or are brought together to form suites, written internary structure, with a sense of introspection and nostalgia as well astouches of folk-music, and are, almost exclusively, composed in minor keys: "Myearliest piano works were very intimate pieces showing my love for simplicityand for the characteristics of our native melodies". The 6 Peces breus (6 ShortPieces) and the 8 Peces per a piano (8 Piano Pieces) are clear examples of thisearly style and the last in his series of piano miniatures. Blancafort was heresubconsciously creating a kind of "database" in that in addition to each piecehaving its own intrinsic value, a number of them were re-used in later works,often having been substantially reworked. Apart from anything else, theminiature form, typical of the French school and popular with many Europeancomposers at the time, allowed Blancafort to learn his trade and establish abasis on which he was later able to construct larger symphonic works.Essentially self-taught, he made up for any lack of formal training withextreme compositional rigour, as can be seen in these works, and in the way herevised his compositions, paying attention to the minutest of details, andmaking modifications without losing any of the original freshness. The result:exemplary work in terms of both construction and inspiration.
Jocs i danses al camp (Country Games and Dances) and Cantsintims I (Intimate Songs I) were both composed in the years immediately beforehis marriage to Helena Paris, their dedicatee, and are magnificent examples ofthe dual nature of his music. His more playful, extrovert side is evident inJocs i danses al camp, which uses folk-based melodic material, while Cantsintims I reflects his nostalgic, introspective side, through a more abstractidiom. The two faces of a coin, they exemplify the aims of their composer:"Music must be a medium for expressing internal sentiments and external impressions".
In its original version, Jocs i danses al camp consisted offive pieces (the sixth was added much later), which were accompanied by shortnotes written by Blancafort to capture the playful nature of the cycle. Thefirst piece is headed, "S'ha perdut un anell a veure qui el troba..." (We'velost the ring, let's see who can find it...), and the music echoes the desperatesearch with a lively rhythm (faster still in the central section), harshharmonies and an insistent inclusion of a disheartening Lento. A happy endingseems to be suggested by the coda however, when a dance-like melody appears."Seguim l'ombra d'un n??vol" (We follow the shadow of a cloud) portrays thepursuit of a capricious shadow which ultimately evaporates, plunging thepursuers into sadness. As a consolation, in the third piece Blancafort calls tomind walking barefoot on the grass ("de peus descal?ºos damunt l'herba") anddancing to the sound of a flabiol (a typical Catalan wind instrument) which hasits own tonada to play in the middle section. A more relaxed atmosphere comeswith the "Joc donant-se les mans" (Holding-hands game) and the serene dancewhich bring a brief respite before the frenzied running about of part V ("Vine,vine vine, vine! Corre, corre, corre!" -- Come on, come on, come on! Run, run,run!). Here the composer includes a "cant per anar a la guerra" (battle-song)in the central section of the tripartite form, the nationalist character ofwhose words are clear evidence of his deep-rooted love for his homeland. The cycleends in animated manner with one last reference to folk music: a sardana(traditional Catalan dance).
Cants intims I is characterized by a sense of agitation and,at times, desolation -- emotions that were part of that "incomprehensiblesadness" which had been with Blancafort since childhood. As in Jocs i danses alcamp the influence of both Mompou and contemporary French music can bediscerned in the lack of bars and barlines which results in unstable rhythmsand sweeping harmonies. The epigraphs introducing each piece underline theextreme nature of this work, whose finale is disconcerting -- a gentle lullabybringing to a close one of the composer's most heartrending works. RicardoVines, the celebrated Catalan pianist who gave the first performances of manyworks by Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Poulenc and Milhaud, would often programme thiswork for his recitals, proof indeed of the growing esteem in which Blancafort'smusic was held in Europe's musical circles.
English Version: Susannah Howe